Laura Bullock Riter: A Woman at Work

The Woman and Her Tool

I started this post a couple of years ago but never found the time to finish it.  Laura’s birthday is today.  She was born in 1887.  I thought this might be the perfect time to go ahead and publish this part of her story.  Laura is my maternal great grandmother- my granny Bates’ mom.  I’ve written about her before on the Livejournal portion of my blog at http://happy-girl-24.livejournal.com/37741.html.

Laura Bullock Riter

Laura Riter with her daughters including my granny on the far right.

Sometime around the 1930’s-1940’s Laura worked in Hiwasse, Benton County, Arkansas at a canning factory.  She hulled strawberries and got them ready to process.  She used this tool to do her job:

 Laura Riter strawberry huller

 The engraving on the metal says, “Indepent/Marion, Ind./Supply Co.”.

That huller is still in the family and it’s a very unique kitchen tool.  I’ve tried looking it up online and have never found an image of one like it.  This tool was used to seed and cap the strawberries.

 

The Law and The Era

Shortly after the first known cannery was opened in Hiwasse in 1920, new legislation (Act #140) was enacted allowing canning factories to hire women and work them for more than 9 hours a day.  The change in the law also provided for women to receive time and a half overtime and made provisions for fair pay and for redress for women who were doing “piece work”.  Working the strawberries for the canning factory was considered piece work since the women were paid by the bucket for the work they did.  (Fayetteville Daily Democrat, 13 June 1921).  Within a year, newspapers were making a big deal about hiring women to work in the canning factories.  There was such a shortage of workers for the canneries that they were eager to dip into their new supply of female workers.  One newspaper article entitled, “Big Demand for Women at Canning Factories” stated, “men will not peel apples” and, “women are faster”.  (Fayetteville Daily Democrat, 26 Aug 1922)

 laura bullock riter women in canning factories

Newspapers.com clipping. 

In the early 1920’s Laura was in her 30’s.  In 1928 she lost her husband and had a house full of children to care for.  She chose to work rather than marry again.  It was in this climate, with the first world war safely behind us, laws having been changed to assist factories, and in the beginning years of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl Era, that Laura went to work.

 

The Canneries: Her Potential Employers

I always thought (and was always told) that Laura worked for Allen Canning Company.  Once I started researching, I began to question which company she worked for or whether she might have worked for multiple companies with Allen’s being the last she worked for.  There were several canneries that operated in Hiwasse in the 1920’s through 1940’s: Gentry Marketing Association’s cannery which was later sold to Allen Canning and then later sold again and known as Hiwasse Canning, a different company operating as Hiwasse Canning (two separate canneries operated under the name Hiwasse Canning), and Appleby Brothers cannery.

 

Fayetteville Canning Company

In a 1919 edition of the Texas Trade Review and Industrial Record, I found one sentence stating that Fayetteville Canning Company had plans to establish a canning factory in Hiwasse, Arkansas.  I was never able to establish whether they did, in fact, build a canning factory there.  I’ve never seen any other mention of this anywhere so possibly this canning factory is the one mentioned in the next section or possibly it never came to fruition.

 

W. E. Cherry and Hiwasse Canning Factory

W. E. Cherry seems to have been the first known canner in Hiwasse.  He started his factory about 1920 in Hiwasse.  In addition to owning the canning factory, he was also the first (although temporary) Chairman of the Hiwasse Berry Growers’ Association, an organization which he helped organize.  This fact leads me to believe that Mr. Cherry’s cannery probably canned strawberries, although I have no proof either way.  Here is a 1921 article about the Hiwasse Canning factory owned by W. E. Cherry:

 w e cherry canning factory hiwasse

Newspapers.com clipping

I have never been able to find much about the Hiwasse canneries online.  While researching, I discovered that Shiloh Museum in Springdale, Arkansas has an amazing online exhibit about the Benton County canneries.  I highly recommend visiting their website.  You can find a history of the local canning industry here.  You can find images of the different cannery labels here,  a photo gallery of local canneries hereand audio clips of people who were involved in the local canning industry talking about the canneries and cannery work here.    There are a couple of other links in the online exhibit that I did not include.  Please take some time to check out Shiloh Museum’s digital exhibit. 

Since I couldn’t find much online, I decided to call Shiloh Museum and ask if there was anything they had that wasn’t included in the online exhibit that might be relevant to my blog post.  I spoke with Ms. Rachel Whitaker, a Research Specialist at Shiloh Museum.  She was so kind as to search their holdings and get back with me (the same day!).  Ms. Whitaker found a listing for W. E. Cherry’s cannery in Hiwasse in The Hiwasse History Book. This book includes an ad showing that Mr. Cherry’s cannery handled blackberries, tomatoes, and green beans.

 

Appleby Brothers’ Canning

The Appleby Brothers had a cannery in Hiwasse also.  (Fayetteville Daily Democrat, 10 Apr 1923).  You can see an image of Appleby Brothers’ canning label at the Shiloh Museum website’s online exhibit in the “Canning Label Gallery” linked above.

I know for certain that Appleby canned strawberries because there is an ad in the 6 Apr 1940 edition of The Northwest Arkansas Times advertising for 300 people to cap strawberries.  Strawberry canning season typically lasted from April to early June.  In Brooks Blevins’ book Hill Folks, Mr. Blevins noted that the Appleby Brothers- George and Charles- also organized a “strawberry growers’ association” in the area.  Although I found the 1940 ad for Appleby Brothers, in Rachel’s research, she found that Appleby Brothers’ properties were auctioned off as noted in the 10 August 1939 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times newspaper. 

In addition to the information listed above, Rachel also found that Appleby’s cannery in both the 1921 edition of the Marketing and Industrial Guide: Directory of Manufactures and the 1922 edition of the Canner’s Directory.  Appleby’s was also mentioned in Brooks Blevins’ book Hill Folks.

 

Gentry Marketing Association’s Cannery

Gentry Marketing Association was created by and for the local farmers who supplied produce to the canneries.  It was a surprisingly strong and united group.  The farmers took care of one another, advocated for fair prices for produce, staved off outside big businesses who were coming in and trying to take away profits and produce from the farmers and canneries, and successfully marketed the produce and products of Benton County, Arkansas. 

The association owned its own canneries and one of those canneries was in Hiwasse.  If the cannery had a name, I’ve never found it.   This plant was sold off a couple of times in the latter half of the 1940’s.  In 1946 it was sold by the Gentry Marketing Association presumably to Allen Canning (then called Allen & Son of Siloam Springs).

 

Allen Canning

Earl Allen founded Allen Canning in 1926.  Mr. Allen “established a solid reputation for his honesty in dealing with growers, forging relationships that would benefit the company for years to come”.  (http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/5/Allen-Canning-Company.html)  Mr. Allen apparently only owned the Hiwasse factory for a couple of years from 1946-1948.

When Allen Canning was still in business in Siloam Springs, Arkansas they had a large Popeye statue that stood outside their office.  Here is my brother standing with the Popeye statue:

  Jared and Popeye statue

In 1948 Allen Canning sold the plant to Frank Brandhuber and Hill Diven and it was called Hiwasse Canning.  My mom says that my grandparents (her parents- the BATES’) and great-grandmother (her maternal grandmother- Laura BULLOCK RITER) always referred to working for Allen Canning.  A few years ago before Allen Canning sold out to Sager Creek (who then sold out to Del Monte), my mom called them and asked if they had any photos or historical materials pertaining to the canning factory in Hiwasse and the people who worked there.  They did not have anything.  She says they referred to the Hiwasse factory by name and she thought they said they bought the canning factory from Appleby Brothers.  So perhaps Allen Canning had two different stints in Hiwasse.  I’m not sure.  I could go to Benton County Courthouse and try to look up deeds but that would delay publishing this blog post and who knows when I’ll get a chance to go there.  I’ll leave that task for another day and another blog post.  For now, I’m going to publish what I have.  Perhaps it is meant for someone else to find those records.

 

Hiwasse Canning

It isn’t surprising that a member of the Diven family purchased the factory from Allen Canning.  Members of the Diven family were heavily involved in various canning companies in Benton County, Arkansas during this time period.  (Joplin Globe, 28 July 1929)  They even took their business into Texas and had canning factories there.  Unfortunately, not much is known about Brandhuber and Diven’s Hiwasse Canning company- or at least not that I could find in my research.  Ms. Whitaker at Shiloh Museum was unable to find any information about Hiwasse Canning either.  I can only assume that since Brandhuber and Diven called their factory Hiwasse Canning that by this time, Mr. Cherry’s Hiwasse Canning factory had already closed.

 

Working Conditions

I want to be sure you understand what kind of conditions Laura worked in at the canning factories.  Here is a link to an audio clip from Shiloh Museum’s online exhibit talking about the oppressive heat and how you couldn’t get away from it when working in the cannery.  There was no air condition.

http://www.shilohmuseum.org/podcasts/004bowmn.mp3

Whenever you think you have it bad at work, just think about Laura in the heat and humidity of an Ozark summer working in a canning factory that produced more heat on top of the already oppressive heat and humidity outside.  I really encourage you to listen to some of the audio clips the museum has online to get a feel for the conditions Laura worked in.  Just as a reminder, you can find those audio clips here http://www.shilohmuseum.org/exhibits/canning-listen.php. 

 

Miscellaneous Information

There were other mentions of Hiwasse-based canning factories in newspapers of the 1920’s to 1940’s era but most of the time the Hiwasse plants were not named or identified in any way so it’s hard to say if there were more than the factories mentioned above in Hiwasse. 

I made a trip to Hiwasse with my mom on June 23rd– just this week- in search of the location of the old canning factories.  Mom suspected they were on Main Street.  At the intersection of Old Main and Highway 72 were two very old buildings.  One was a former gas station.  The other building turned out to be the old Banks grocery store.

 

banks grocery ad

Virgil Banks Store ad for 1947 canning season.  Newspapers.com clipping from The Journal-Advance newspaper out of Gentry, Arkansas, 20 February 1947.

Banks grocery hiwasse ar 2017

The old Virgil Banks grocery store on 23 June 2017 in Hiwasse, Arkansas.

I began at the Hiwasse post office and asked if the woman working the counter knew where the canning factories had been located when they were still standing.  She said she wasn’t from the area and couldn’t help me but she directed me to the Holloway family at the corner convenience store in town.  Mom and I (and two of my grandsons who were with me that day) headed down the highway to the Hiwasse convenience store.  The owner was very busy taking lunch orders so the girl at the counter directed me to an elderly gentleman sitting at one of the tables.  I introduced myself to him and told him what I was looking for.  He said his name (I think- it was loud and hard to hear) was James Adams.  He said he’d only been in Hiwasse for about 15 years and couldn’t really help me but said I should go back down the street to the lawnmower shop and ask the people there.  They would know, he said.  I thanked him and left.  We headed West again on Highway 72 back to the small engine shop in town.  There, the lady at the counter directed me to a small office to talk to Jan.  Jan was wonderful.  She loves history and was more than happy to share with me what she knew.  She said she moved to the Hiwasse area from South Dakota about 40 years ago.  This is home for her now and she would never leave.  She loves it here.  She said there used to be a lot of old-timers here who told her all the history of the place but they were all gone now.  She said when she first moved here, the canning factory buildings- there were 2- were still standing but they’re gone now.  She gave me specific directions and told me what to look for to know I was in the right spot.  Mom and I headed West again on Highway 72- maybe a block or so and turned South onto Sandusky Road- a little dirt lane that was barely noticeable.

 

Sandusky Rd Hiwasse AR sign

 As we were leaving the canning factory site I took a photo of the Sandusky Road sign.  From the highway heading West it was completely covered by the tree.  We guessed at where the canning factories had stood.  As we were making a second pass down the dirt lane I noticed an older man sitting in his truck in front of a mobile home.  Being from the country, I knew better than to pass him by.  He’d be wanting to know what we were doing and what we were looking for.  Things would go better if I stopped and introduced myself.  Besides, I might get more information.  So I stopped and introduced myself and told the gentleman what we were looking for.  His name was Mr. Gallion and as it turns out, he is only a few years older than my mom.  He knew of my mom’s family- the BATES’- and she was familiar with his family name as well.  We talked for a while.  He told me all that was left of the canning factories was one cement pad and the well house.  These two things stand behind the yellow house about the distance of 1 and ½ city blocks south of Highway 72, on the West side of the road just past the big storage buildings (the storage buildings are on the East side of the road).  I didn’t get a photo because there isn’t anything you could see except the yellow house and I didn’t want to take a photo of someone’s home and put it up on the blog.  He told me that the Easley sisters- two elderly, unmarried women had lived in the mobile home we were all sitting in front of.  Hattie Easley had been the Postmaster of Hiwasse back in the day and her sister Esther (?) Easley had been the teacher at the one-room school- Banks School House. 

 

Thank-You’s and Closing Thoughts

Before I close, I want to thank my mom who almost always gives me the basics of the stories I tell about her family.  Thanks to Rachel Whitaker at Shiloh Museum for assisting me with research in Shiloh’s collection.  Thanks to Hiwasse residents who either helped me or referred me on to someone else who could help me: the lady at the Hiwasse Post Office whose name I did not get, James (?) Adams whom I spoke with at the Hiwasse convenience store while he was having coffee.  The lady at the small engine repair shop who led me to Jan- another lady at the small engine shop who knew how to find the old canning factory sites and who shares a love of local history with me.  And lastly, thank you to Mr. Gallion who took time out from eating his lunch to chat with us about the canning factories and the old families and places of Hiwasse. 

Mr. Gallion talked of the old hotel that has since been torn down and of many of the other wonderful things about Hiwasse that were gone now.  He lamented that newcomers just consider themselves part of the town of Gravette now.  Only the old-timers still call this place Hiwasse.  I guess that makes me an old-timer.  My Papa BATES was born in Hiwasse so I grew up hearing stories about this place.  To me, this will always be Hiwasse.  I commented to mom that the day is coming when I’ll go to a place and ask about the old places, old families, and old times and no one will remember.  That’s one thing that keeps me writing about these old places and people from times gone by.  They’ll live on as long as someone remembers. 

So always remember- and always tell your stories…even if you think no one is listening. 

 

Until next time,

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives

 

P. S.- There is still work to be done in regard to this topic if anyone is interested in taking up the research.  University of Arkansas Library Special Collections has records of some of the local canning companies that I’ve never looked at.  I’m wondering if the David and Barbara Pryor Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas contains any collections that would be informative to us about this topic.  There are two Hiwasse history books that I hear would be beneficial to my research.  Shiloh Museum has records that are not included in their online exhibit that I’d still like to see even if none specifically mention Hiwasse.  Also, a visit to the Benton County Clerk’s office to look at land records would help shed light on which companies owned land in Hiwasse and when.  There is so much research to do and I won’t live long enough to do it.  Feel free to help me!

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